LAKE PLACID - Attorneys for a 21-year-old Watertown woman want a jury to determine whether village police assaulted, battered and falsely arrested her in a parking lot in front of a supermarket here.
Taryn Stanfa filed a civil complaint with the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York on Wednesday. The complaint brings 13 claims against Lake Placid village police officers James D. Staats and Matthew J. Braunius in connection with the Jan. 21 incident that happened just outside the village in the town of North Elba.
Stanfa is seeking $1 million in damages.
Village police Chief Bill Moore declined to comment, saying he and his officers have been advised by their attorneys not to speak about the case. Phone and email messages left for Jonathan Bernstein of the Albany-based law firm Goldberg Segalla LLP hadn't been returned as of this morning.
"Like I've been saying all along, I think the truth will come out," Moore said.
Before Wednesday, Stanfa hadn't filed a formal complaint "setting forth the factual allegations supporting her claims," according to her attorney, Matt Norfolk of Lake Placid. Stanfa filed a civil lawsuit against Staats, Braunius and the village of Lake Placid in July, and the case was later moved to federal court at the request of the defendants because they believed her claims to be based on federal law.
Both sides agree that at about 5 a.m. Jan. 21, Stanfa and a friend parked in Cold Brook Plaza in front of the Hannaford supermarket, about 100 yards outside of the village of Lake Placid, and went into the store to use a bathroom. A store employee informed them the store was closed, and they returned to their vehicle. They didn't immediately leave the premises, so the employee contacted Ray Brook-based state police, who turned the call over to village police.
In the complaint, Stanfa alleges that when the officers arrived, Staats interrogated her, asking what drugs she was taking, why she was parked at the supermarket and where she had been before stopping at the plaza, among other questions. Staats allegedly searched Stanfa's purse and vehicle, which Stanfa objected to.
Stanfa alleges that Staats proceeded to grab her, push her to the pavement, strike her in the back with his knee and place handcuffs on her. She says he then continued a search of the vehicle, a maroon 2000 Dodge Neon, before placing her in a police cruiser, threatening to arrest her for assault of an officer and driving while intoxicated.
Stanfa claims to have offered to take a field sobriety test and breathalyzer test, which Staats allegedly refused to administer.
"(The) plaintiff was held in custody and detained in the backseat of the police cruiser for 45 minute or more," the claim reads, "when defendant Braunius finally came to the police cruiser, opened the rear door and assisted plaintiff out of the vehicle and then proceeded to remove the handcuffs from plaintiff's wrists, while stating to her, 'I'm sorry for my partner's reactions. You just made him a little upset.'"
Stanfa claims Staats verbally threatened her, telling her he would pull her over if he saw her car again and that she "better stay out of this town," according to the complaint. She says the officers ordered her and her passenger to get a ride home with an adult male unknown to them.
Stanfa was never charged with a crime, nor was she given an appearance ticket for an offense. She claims to have suffered "serious and protracted physical injuries" as a result of the alleged assault and battery.
The 13 claims within the complaint include multiple allegations of civil rights violations and one claim of gross negligence against Braunius for not taking action to protect Stanfa during Staats' alleged assault. The complaint also claims that both officers "willfully, knowingly, deliberately and intentionally prepared a Complaint Report of the stop, search, interrogation, arrest and detainment of plaintiff" that was "materially false and misleading,"
A copy of that complaint report was included in legal documents sent to the media Thursday morning. The report paints a picture of the incident that differs dramatically from Stanfa's account.
The report, filed by Staats and Braunius, states that Stanfa and her female passenger were "highly intoxicated and incoherent" when they were found parked in front of Hannaford. The report said the vehicle's headlights and hazard lights were on, and that Stanfa claimed to have "lost the keys to her car" and asked the officers to give her a ride back home to Saranac Lake.
The report states that a third party agreed to give Stanfa and her passenger a ride "after a lengthy conversation." At the point, Stanfa allegedly became "violent and uncooperative with patrol." She was then placed in the cruiser until she could calm down and warm up, according to the report. The officers wrote that Stanfa and her passenger "had committed violations out of the Village, were detained for interview and no arrests (were made) due to the violation level."
The police report also states that Stanfa "handed patrol a glass smoking device with marihuana residue and a can of 'Pepper 10' pepper spray." Police said the items were confiscated and destroyed with Stanfa's consent.
The report notes that state police weren't able to assist because of an investigation into a "serious" snowmobile accident.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.